By late morning my throat feels sore and I'm blowing my nose openly onto the tarmac. Sweating profusely I'm beginning to feel as I'm 'going down with something'. Was it the bug that hit me in the mouth yesterday and disappeared down my throat or some other kind of bug?
I make good time, and am soon at my halfway point of Portomarin, and the speedy descent off the higher ground down through the mists makes me cold once more and I stop to put on a warmer top layer.
Crossing to the other side of the river the climb begins again and the guide book says stick to the road. The trucks are few but the car numbers increase and I warm up again steadily climbing up and moving from the traffic lane into the wide 'cycle path' at the edge of every major Spanish road I have cycled so far. Most of these side paths are at least 1 metre wide, are mostly free of chippings, stones and bits that might puncture, or worse, tear the tyres. The Spanish roads have, by and large, been very impressive indeed. Especially the huge road building programmes and motorway intersections with gigantic roundabouts, around which I have often been alone when pedalling. I'm left to reflect for whom these roads are built, and with whose money?
By a hostal-pension called Pension A Los Dos Alt Alemans (!) I stop for a drink, undo one of my two Vaude pannier bags and go into a little shop to buy some water. As I set off having had a rest and drink I see a lone pilgrim photographing one of the Cocquille shell adorned direction posts. 'Buen Camino' I say to him as I pass, and he responds,
'Oh? Yeah, Bon Kamino!'
I say I recognise the accent, and ask where he's from?
'Wandsworth, well tell a lie, west London now, but London, yeah. I'm Ben.'
'Oh', I say, 'I was born in the London Borough of Lambeth, so we're neighbours, sort of, a generation or so apart....'
He laughs and I cycle as slowly as I can to keep at his walking pace and we travel together, talking of London, the breweries and craft beers, and the closure of Young's Ram Brewery inWandsworth, the few Britons we have met on The Way, and that this is his 3rd and final stage, having done two previous stints of fortnight pilgrimage over the previous two years. He's looking to finish by Friday as his girlfriend is flying into Santiago to join him. He enjoys solitary walking but I gain the impression that some of this has actually been quite lonely. We travel together for a half hour or so, and come upon a fountain where I decide to refill one of my flasks. At that point I discover the open pannier bag strap, and somewhere back behind me, my Arc'tyrix black fantastic soft-shell inner jacket Homme XL - in mountain gear magazine jargon - is nowhere to be seen. It has flown. I can only hope someone benefits from finding it. And from the IKEA Allen key in the tiny pocket on the upper arm that was perfect for quickly lowering and raising the saddle stem.
Along the way can be found a whole host of small barns, farm buildings and village houses where small businesses have been set up to feed and water the pilgrim and to also satisfy a more religious need, hence the offering by some of Scallop shells, often beautifully painted.
At Melide I feel like I have cycled enough for the day and it will leave me only 51 kms to cycle before reaching Santiago. Eugen, the German I cycled with on my first day, had emailed to say he felt like he was being pulled towards Santiago, and the sense of that was quite emotional. Indeed it is true. But in truth right now I feel like shit!
As I ride off the Camino there is a sign saying Pension Hostal, "!Nuevo!" and I spot 2 bikes parked inside the chain link fence by the door and two men sitting under parasols chatting. Yes, one says, they have accommodation, there is a garage for bikes, and washing facilities. There is also ample space for the still damp linen from Marcella's to be hung and dried in the strong breeze and sunshine. Two large dormitories are available but few showers and toilets, and I meet a Spanish rider who speaks French as does the North African Spaniard who runs the place. In all there are 4 of us, spaced apart in our dormitory that sleeps 27. Gear washed and hung out to dry I go into town in search of a pharmacy, but they will not sell me any paracetamol, I am left wondering if it's because I have no doctor issued prescription. I still have 3 or 4 left, so buy a large bag of oranges and look for an attractive 'Pulperia' for dinner, as Marcella had said this town specialised in Octopus Dinners! As I walk the town I spot a Mexican couple I have seen and waved to on a few occasions, she looks fit to drop. I stop them and tell them I have found a reasonable bike loving Hostal with plenty of space but she says they have to go on to their reserved accommodation at Arzúa still another 14 kms and she admits to being very tired but they need to get there before dark.
I soon find a good looking traditional Pulperia complete with huge boiling pans of les Meduses, and the charcoal filled grill and metal hooks for hanging the ugly bastards as they sizzle. I eat a full wooden platter of the sliced octopus, and a bowl of green pimientos quickly sizzled in olive oil and sprinkled with coarse salt. Delicious. After a bottle of Rioja crianza, shared with Gerhard, another German pilgrim and his beautiful Icelandic companion, whose name sounded like Owzer.... (Owzer,Owzer,Owzer) ... I felt ready for a good night's sleep, but it wasn't going to happen. The common cold has arrived and, strepsils in mouth, I turn, though corkscrew would be a better term, restlessly.
At 8am or so, I am awake and as the other pilgrim cyclists leave I pack and am out on the road and climbing! Always in the morning; uphill. I have 51 kms or so to reach Santiago de Compostela and although it is, technically downhill, there are a number of hills to be encountered on the way. It is cold, damp and a blanket of grey cloud covers the area although it could well be burned off by the sun. It could worsen and rain Galicia is, after all very green and damp.
After about 2 hours of what seems more than undulating road it starts to rain. I have passed the old grey haired guy I have seen on the road for the past few days, the young couple from Hawaii that I have passed each day start to acknowledge my "Hola!" He smiles as I pass on an uphill stretch while he pushes hard and drags behind him an odd trailer contraption with two small suitcases mounted.
On the outskirts of Santiago it is now raining hard but the pull of the city and the goal itself seems incredible. The guide book tells me the route is very busy so better to take the 'Chemin Marcheurs' which is by turn, tarmac and hard, reasonably wide gravel paths. It seems a bit risky with the type of tyres I have. They should be able to take this terrain quite easily but I wonder if I am tempting fate, having ridden so far without any mishap.
By now the day tripping 'peregrinos' have joined the long line of walkers, some not even realising they are on a road and wander into the path of trucks and delivery vehicles that very likely have to negotiate around such pilgrims each and every day. Not for the first time do I wonder at the patience of these Spaniards who see these pilgrims in their thousands each day, every day.
There is though a sense of being pulled, drawn towards the city. It is really very moving. At the same time I can't believe I have ridden over 890 kilometres. Not so surprising given these pavement signs throughout Spanish cities and major towns on the Camino to guide the pilgrim.
I had pre-booked a hotel-hostal on the Camino proper, easily find it and their facilities to store an later dismantle my bike and stuff it in its bag. Having checked in and changed I ride into the city towards the Cathedral, to the Correos (post office) to collect my bike bag, then to the Renfe train office to buy my rail ticket back to Hendaya and Baiona/Bayonne for the following day and finally to visit the Oficina de Peregrinos where I queue for my certificate. At the Correos office I was asked to take a desk number and await my turn. I had visions of this taking hours. Minutes later I am called to the desk where I present my copy of the form issued by the Correos office in Puenta de Reina some 10 days or so ago. Within a minute my box is sitting in front of me, and I have my bicycle bag. A first rate service. I gave them no notice as to when I might collect it, and I have it within minutes of my arrival. The train ticket is equally easy to buy and cheap too. €47 for an eleven hour across Spain rail journey. Lastly the Oficina. After queueing for about 45 minutes or so, I turn to check that my unattended bike is still within sight and hear...
"Ugo!" And there in the crowd behind me are Roberto and Margaretta. I go to say hello and am gripped in a bear hug by this tall grinning Italian gabbling at me in his native tongue.
When I return having received my certificate there is the flash of camera as they photograph me. I await their collection and am happy to photograph them. On the steps of the Cathedral they find me once again this time photographing Modestine.
So that is my Camino finished. What have I learned? Loads, about other pilgrims, about Spain, about people in general and charity. Kindness; for the mantra of my Camino has without doubt been "The Kindness of Strangers."
I shall write a short epilogue at some stage once the reflections cease to tumble around in side my head, and settle down into some semblance of order.